Food (written 2016)

16/06/2016 09:40

Like many people in this society, perhaps women especially, I have had a lifetime of conflicted and complex relationships with food. Choice is part of the problem. So are the variety of messages about indulgence versus self-restraint. We have busy lives. We eat out a lot. We fall into the fast food, unhealthy eating trap. We want a bargain. We fall for the super-sizing strategy and make-it-a-meal deal that seems to offer more for our money.


Add familial messages about food as comfort and love, and then contrast that with magazine covers of super-fit, super-thin models, countable ribs, rippling abs, and diet tips on the front covers of 9 out of 10 magazines in the supermarket cashier line.


Then, in my case, throw in dietary restrictions related to health conditions. My restrictions might be personal, but it seems to me that large numbers of the population deal with some form of this last complexity: digestive difficulties, health conditions, allergies, food intolerances.


We need fuel to live, so eating isn't like drinking (alcohol) or television or gambling or any of the myriad distractions and diversions in our life that may lead us into a morass of remorse and self-judgment. We have to be able to handle it skillfully, not simply give it up. Most of us waffle. (pun intended) We try this diet, then this new restaurant, another diet and then visit a resort with a gourmet menu.


Some of us pay tribute to the overlap between food choices and ethical considerations that have weight for us. Arguments about the taking of sentient life. Arguments about food production and acreage requirements for some “products”. And so some people shut down particular avenues by becoming vegetarian or vegan or pesco-pollo-vegetarians. That would be me...the label itself is a mouthful. You can play with this last category as well. (Fish = pesco, poultry = pollo) Of course, though vegetarian is in the description for me, that doesn't mean much. My vegetable intake is limited by my digestive tract modifications.


It's a bit of a mess. And the complexity leads to a lot of over thinking. Which leads to more voices in a crowded head. And less space for hearing the quiet wisdom of the body and heart.


I've been going on meditation retreats for a couple of decades. Fewer meals are usually offered at these retreats. One or two meals a day instead of three. And often the menu is vegetarian. So, being personally restricted in vegetable intake, I eat a lot of rice. Surprisingly,I still like it. But what is most telling in these retreats is the time given to a meal blessing. Somewhere, no matter what version of the blessing is used, there will be a line or two like this:


Mindfully reflecting, I take this food

Not for fun, not for sporting, not for beautification...

Relieving feelings of hunger

and not inducing new feelings of discomfort from overeating.


A bit different from “God is great/God is good/Let us thank Him for our food”, the blessing I learned as a child. Gratitude is important, but it is not helpful in clear thinking around my own consumption.


A few weeks back I had the sudden inspiration (OK, I'm a slow learner) to make the lines in the retreat blessing a part of my daily meal routine. I've done this only sporadically before. And here's the interesting thing. When I begin to consistently recognize the voices that urge me to eat for fun, to eat for sporting, to eat for beauty, and when I watch my thoughts enough to know when hunger is present and when it's sated, the problem around food dissolves. If I purchase a grilled chicken burger because life is busy, but then, bite by bite, notice when I've had enough, there is no problem with this choice. If I prepare a meal, and then take my own servings, listening to my body's needs and not “Desire” bellowing in my head, or “Self Pity” shouting her down, I choose according to what this body can digest in comfort, what makes me feel well and not guilty or ill afterward.


In my home, the division of duties means that I'm the one who buys the groceries and prepares most of the meals. So thinking about food goes beyond the moment that I put a bite into my mouth. This is true for most women still, I think. I am grateful for the abundance on the supermarket shelves, for the good life that we lead in a country of affluence, even with the economic downturn. I am also intent on being mindful in the choices this good life affords me.